There are those who revel in the star-stalking and media overload of TIFF, and there are those who couldn't care less. I am mostly one of the latter, but must confess I always find myself rubbernecking when cycling past some swanky late-night party at some trendy nightclub with the cameras flashing and a general sense of glitter in the air. Try as I might, it's hard not to get caught up in the excitement of it all - even if the stars themselves are not what causes the excitement, the feeling itself is in the air, and is almost palpable.
Anyway, I rarely go to many TIFF films, in large part because of the prohibitive ticket prices [anyone read that joke of an article (yet strangely spot on) in the Toronto Sun about TIFF being elitist? Amazing...]. However, each year I do make it a point to go to at least a couple Midnight Madness screenings. MM's programmer, Colin Geddes (who is also the creator of the fabulous Popcorn and Sticky Floors blog, to which there is a link on the right), does an absolutely bang-up job of bringing some of the funniest, strangest, coolest, and terrifyingest(?!?) films to the festival, and the mania that grips the crowds is tangible. You want energy and excitement at TIFF? Skip the new Coen bros. flick and hit up a MM selection. A combination of the late hour and the fact that probably 80-85% of the audience is in the grips of some kind of mad caffeine/booze/drug-fuelled craze, makes the screenings more of an event, or experience, akin to attending a rock show. Never do you get the pretentious ramblings of some art-house director, but merely a rag-tag band of like minded genre fans who simply want to either have a good time or be pushed to the limits of filmic extremism.
This year, I picked up a few tickets on a whim for me and Kris to attend, and we got one hit and one miss. The miss was The Burrowers, a horror western with a cool concept and some frightening scenes, but whose ambitious reach exceeded its budgetary grasp. The actors did a commendable job, and their characters were well-written (I especially enjoyed William Mapother's dryly droll Parcher and Carnivale's Clancy Brown), but the film was bogged down by some horribly botched pacing and laughable effects (note to filmmakers: never, ever, do CGI effects look better than practical ones). The cinematography was well-done by Rob Zombie's right-cam man Phil Parmet. Overall, the film wasn't horrible, but not very memorable either - more like something I might give a go on DVD, but it certainly doesn't bear a re-watch. Overall, The Burrowers came off as a kind of low-rent, slower moving bastard child of The Searchers and Tremors (with a touch of The Boogens thrown in for good measure). Unfortunately, the sum of the newest film is nowhere near the equal of its influences ('cept maybe The Boogens...).
The hit - and oh, what a hit - was last night's screening of the latest installment in the French New Wave of Horror canon, Pascal Laugier's Martyrs. There are already reviews up from certain types who blindly and grievously err on the knee-jerk reaction side of the fence, but a film like this is guaranteed to divide audiences, so let's just run with that and get to the film itself, which I will go on record to say that it is one of the more brilliant pieces of filmmaking I have recently seen, not to mention a huge mindfuck, and ultimately, a remarkably humane film.
Anyone who chooses to watch this intense, disturbing, and incredibly brutal film, will come away with an opinion one way or another. For better or worse, this is a film that I cannot stop thinking about. Kris called it beautiful, which shocked me a bit at first, but the more I think about it, the more I realize how dead on he is. And I cannot remember the last time I have played and replayed in my head the final 5 minutes of a film. Incredible.
Martyrs shifts gears violently at the midway point, and the second half is intelligently designed to justify the first half. Apologies if this sounds kind of vague, but to merely discuss the plot is rather superficial, as the movie is more concerned with conceptual ideas, philosophies, and the threshold between pleasure and pain. Kind of like a grown up version of Hellraiser. Yes, there are scenes of mind-numbing degradation and violence, but from the ashes of this rises a true ecstasy, a transendence, both on the part of the film's victim and the thoughtful, willing, and open-minded viewer. And the ending - in which the perpetrators themselves prove to be the victims of the very violence they hath wrought - is absolute brilliance.
Anyway, this certainly ain't a film for everyone, and if you are sickened by the likes of those Sawstel films (not that I would think to compare those to Martyrs), you're best advised to give this film a wide berth. But if you can stomach Salo, and you've got an open mind and can see beyond the surface violence, in Martyrs you'll find quite a profound, and yes, beautiful, film.
Off to see Barbet Schroeder's new film tomorrow, based on an Edogawa Rampo (Japan's biggest fan of Poe - try this, in your best Japanese accent: Edoga Waram Po - get it now?) tale of kinky sex, mystery and murder. While not a Midnight Madness film, it should be a real treat...